Talk Radio’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Rod Liddle Get Upset about British Universities’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders

And now for a much more serious subject. The day before yesterday, 30th December 2020, Talk Radio posted this video on YouTube of one of their presenters, Kevin O’Sullivan, talking about the compilation of a Dictionary of British Slave Traders by a group of British universities with that fixture of the right-wing press, Rod Liddle. The project is led by a professor Pettigree, and involves the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and University College London. O’Sullivan quotes Prof. William Pettigree, who said that after Black Lives Matter it was important that there should be further, accurate information on the breadth of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. As you can imagine, neither O’Sullivan nor Liddle are fans of the project. Some of their arguments are good, but others are just them using the issue to ride the usual Conservative hobby horses of attacking state education.

Non-White Slave Trade Ignored

The Dictionary will have 6,500 entries, including small investors, women, and people, whose involvement in the Abominable Trade has not been mentioned before. O’Sullivan claims that this is a device for finding out whether a perfectly respectable living person had an ancestor 350 years ago, who invested £5 in a plantation, and then make their blameless descendant into a pariah and get them sacked. He states that we need the Dictionary ‘like a hole in the head’, denounces the obsession with the slave trade as a ‘national sickness’. Liddle, who is introduced as writing for the Sun, the Spectator and the Sun on Sunday, agrees, calling it ‘self-flagellating imbecilic obsessiveness’. He states that the Dictionary isn’t about anyone, but specifically the White English. It doesn’t mention the Ottoman Empire, the people, who profited from the slave trade in the West African countries, specifically Ghana. He states that he was in a cab a couple of months ago, whose driver was Ethiopian. The driver told him how much he hated Britain. When Liddle asked why, he was told that it was because Britain was the country that invented slavery and enslaved whole nations. He’d never heard of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire or the slavery that continued in his own country for hundreds of years after Britain had stopped it. He’d never heard of the fact that Britain was the first country to abolish it. Liddle also makes the point that Ethiopia, where it continued, had never been colonised. Liddle goes on to claim that universities are implanting in people’s minds the notion that it was only the British, who were slavers and had this wickedness. This is, he said, reflected in ‘that very stupid woman, who is head of the British Library’, Liz Joly, who said that ‘White people invented racism’. Liddle goes on about how we also invented television, the printing press, democracy, but we invented slavery, sin and mosquitoes. It’s utter rubbish and time we got over it.

The Coronavirus Lockdown Prevented Criticism of BLM at Football Matches

O’Sullivan dismisses Pettigree’s comments about the need for the Dictionary as nonsense, and describes the obsession with the slave trade as a kind of ‘national insanity’. He asks why the country is obsessing about the actions of slave traders who lived three centuries ago. Liddle says we’re not obsessing. It’s a tiny, tiny minority, who are obsessing. And they’ve been partly able to get away with it because of the Coronavirus. This has allowed footballers to take the knee in support of an organisation that wishes to abolish the family and capitalism. This wouldn’t have happened if there had been fans in the ground, because as soon as fans were allowed, they booed. This occurred not just at Liddle’s club, Millwall, but also at Colchester and Dallas in the US. They’ve got away with this because this year has meant the lone voice of the common sense public has not been heard. O’Sullivan agrees with him, stating that the people have been eclipsed by the lockdown and the authorities in politics and football have been allowed to proceed without comment from the public and fans. Liddle states that it’s a salutary lesson that when these restriction are placed on our lives, there is nothing they won’t try to get away with. He then goes to tilt at the Beeb, stating that they used the Coronavirus as an excuse to ban the words to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule, Britannia’.

Liddle Attacks his Daughter’s State School for views on British Empire

O’Sullivan agrees with him that the obsession with slavery and the ‘Woke’ thing is that of a tiny, tiny minority, who are vocal and noisy. He hopes that in this coming year, 2021, the Dictionary never gets published, and that the people’s voice gets heard and we are able to push back against these noisy people. Liddle then describes how, when his daughter went to state school last year, she was taught in her history lessons, which went uncontested, that the reason Africa was in poverty was because of colonialism. He states that this is easy to disprove, as Ethiopia, which was never colonised, is exactly the same as Eritrea. Both countries are equally impoverished and despotic. Liberia, which was never colonised, is as badly off as Sierra Leone next door. Singapore, on the other hand, was colonised for 200 years, and is the most affluent country in the world. There is, Liddle claims, a reluctance to face the truth because of this liberal mindset. This is based on a fallacy, which falls apart if you pick at it.

O’Sullivan then asks Liddle if they teach Critical Race Theory at his daughter’s school. This ‘controversial and very dubious philosophy’ is being taught in schools all over the country, which states that if you’re White, you’re racist, even if you don’t think you are. He states that it’s fine if adults want to learn this nonsense, but really dangerous to teach it to children in schools. Liddle again agrees with him, says he’s sure his daughter was, and that they got her out of it not just because they were teaching ‘that rubbish’, but because most of the time they weren’t teaching at all. There were no lesson during the Covid outbreak, not even online, O’Sullivan jokes that it was probably better that she was getting no lessons at all then. Liddle replies that she got lessons from him on how the British Empire brought decency and democracy to the world as a corrective for five minutes.

Rod Liddle criticises ‘self-flagellating’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders – YouTube

There are several issues to unpack here. Firstly, if the Dictionary was only an academic exercise in researching the depth of British public involvement in the slave trade, then I don’t think there should be any objection to its compilation and publication. There’s already been considerable research on the subject. A little while ago one historian of the subject said that they were actually astonished by how widespread participation in the slave trade and slavery was, with ordinary members of the public investing their money in it. In fact you could easily produce a list of British slaveowners simply by going through the government’s Blue Book published c. 1840 for the compensation given to the slaveowners after abolition. From the 1820s onwards the British government passed legislation designed to halt the illegal importation of slaves in their colonies by passing legislation demanding that all slaves be registered. This could also be used. The compensation returns and slave registries might have some surprises for those, who believe that only White people owned slaves. Several of the slaveowners in the Caribbean included the Maroons, the free Black communities outside British law. I also believe, though I’m not sure, that the free people of colour, the free Black population, may also have owned slaves.

Real Danger of Innocent People Demonised for Ancestors’ Involvement

O’Sullivan’s claim that the book would be used to denounce and pillory perfectly decent people for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago is hysterical, but unfortunately also a real possibility. I had to make a similar decision myself when I was working in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. It seemed that there was a strong possibility that some of the people described as slavers may have been the remote ancestors of people I knew personally. I had to think very carefully about telling them, and was eventually advised against it by one of their close friends. They told me that I shouldn’t tell this person about their possible connection to the slave trade, because they were very anti-racist themselves and the information would only upset them. I’ve no doubt that this is true of very many people. I also think that behind some of outrage from O’Sullivan and Liddle, but which goes unspoken, is the fear that it will be used by activists to demand reparations for slavery. I’m not sure how much this will affect ordinary people, though. In the 18th and 19th centuries most people in this country were the ‘labouring poor’, who comprised 90 per cent of the population. These had problems enough paying for food, clothing and accommodation. They wouldn’t have had the disposable income to invest in anything, never mind slaves or plantations, even if they were so inclined. Really we’re only talking about the middle classes and aristocracy as investors and slaveowners. Reparations for slavery are a different issue, but this has its dangers too. Over time, many of the wealthy or comfortably off people, who owned slaves, will have lost their money. All it would take to cause real controversy and angry backlash is if poorly paid people struggling to make ends meet get a demand for reparations from richer Black people. If that happens, you can expect the story to be all over the Heil, Depress and the rest of the press like a rash.

Need to Teach Extra-European, Islamic and Asian Slavery and Slave Trade

I also agree with O’Sullivan and Liddle that more should be taught about extra-European slavery. This includes that of the Arabs and Muslims in north Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic slave trade from east Africa across the Indian Ocean. Liddle is also quite right about the Ethiopians practising the slave trade. Way back in the 19th century we sent a punitive expedition into Abyssinia to stop them raiding British territory for slaves. One of the books we had in the library at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was Major Darnley’s Slaves and Ivory. This was published in the early part of the 20th century and described Darnley’s own personal undercover investigation of slavery within the Abyssinian empire. Darnley published the book to make the public aware that the Abyssinians were still raiding British Uganda for slaves, and that the Ethiopian princes were destroying whole regions of their own empire through such raids. He wished to generate sufficient outrage that public opinion would swing behind a British invasion of the country. Dame Kathleen Simon, a determined foe of slavery, actually praised Mussolini and the Italian Fascists in her book on it for their invasion of Abyssinia, which she felt would at least extinguish slavery there. I do think there is a real need to teach this aspect of the slave trade to counter the notion that it was only Britain that was only, or primarily responsible for it. Britain wasn’t the first country to outlaw it – that was Denmark – but we were the leading country to do so and insist that other nations follow.

The East African Slave Trade in the 19th Century, from James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006) 129.

Concentration on Western Slave Trade Product of Black Rights’ Movement

Research into the historic slave trade has been linked with the campaign for Black liberation since the time of W.E.B. Dubois. Hence the fixation on it by contemporary anti-racist activists. Driving this is the continued impoverishment and disadvantaged condition of the Black community as a whole. But real, Black chattel slavery has re-emerged in Libya and in sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda. There is little interest in combating slavery there. When right-wing critics urged western anti-racist activists to do so, the response has been that it should be ignored as a distraction from continued demands for racial equality here in the West. Kate Maltby, a White contributor to the I, made that argument in its pages a few months ago. She has a point, but it’s still no reason to ignore real slavery as it exists now in order to concentrate on angry denunciations for past crimes. There are books published on non-European slavery. Jeremy Black includes it alongside western slavery in one of his books. James Walvin includes maps of the African and Indian slave trade and routes alongside transatlantic slavery in his Atlas of Slavery. There are books on African slavery, and there is a particular study of the Islamic slave trade, Islam’s Black Slaves: A History of the Other Black Diaspora, by Ronald Segal. I think, however, that there may be some objection to teaching about these slave trades from some anti-racist activists, who may feel that it would somehow be racist or even islamophobic to do so.

Liddle Promoting Privatisation of State Education with Comments

But as you can hear from the video, O’Sullivan and Liddle were also determined to use the issue of slavery to attack other right-wing bugbears. Like the Coronavirus lockdown. This is there to save lives, but it’s too much for the right, who favour the economy at the expense of people’s lives. Hence the rant about footballers taking the knee for Black Lives Matter. Liddle also uses it, surprise, surprise! – to attack state education. We’ve been this way before. I remember the rants of the right-wing press under Thatcher, when the Scum, Heil, Depress and the rest ran stories about children in state schools being indoctrinated with left-wing propaganda, like Peace Studies, while anti-racist fanatics in Brent forced them to sing suitably altered nursery rhymes like ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’. That was a lie put out by the Scum, supposedly, but I’ve met people, who swore they sang it at school. Thatcher used those fears to push through her creation of academy schools, telling the British public that it would put them in control of their children’s education. And this would be taken out of the hands of evil, left-wing Local Education Authorities. In fact, Thatcher’s academy school programme was a complete flop. It was being wound up by Norman Fowler before Blair took the idea out of the Tory dustbin, dusted it off and then made it official Labour policy. And unfortunately the wretched schemes been going ever since. In fact academy schools are not better than state schools and are far more expensive. They should be wound up and education renationalised. But this would upset the parasites running the academies. I don’t think it’s an accident that Liddle came out to rant against state education when he writes for the Scum, as Dirty Rupe would like to move into education as well.

Neo-Colonialism and African Poverty

As for the terrible condition of modern Africa and the legacy of British colonialism, it’s quite true that much of the continent’s problems don’t come from it, but from the rapacious venality and ruthless tyranny of their post-independence rulers. But we took over these countries partly to exploit their resources, and their poverty is partly caused by the Neo-colonial economic system that prevents them from industrialising and confines them to exporting raw materials to the Developed World. I can remember being taught all this in ‘A’ Level Geography nearly forty years ago from teachers, who were definitely not Marxists trying to indoctrinate us. As for the success of Singapore, this can be used to support the socialism Liddle and O’Sullivan fear and despise. Singapore’s leaders were influenced by the Fabians and their belief that the state should take a leading role in the economy. Singapore ain’t a socialist country, but its success does refute Thatcherite free market economics.

While O’Sullivan and Liddle thus are quite reasonable in their criticisms of the proposed Dictionary, they are using it as a tool to promote a wider, right-wing agenda. One that will cause further poverty and endanger lives, but will benefit their paymasters in the press barons and big business.

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